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Princeton SPIA Faculty Provide Insights on First Presidential Debate

Jun 28 2024
By David Mayorga
Source Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Expert Reactions Highlight Key Moments and Policy Implications for Upcoming Election

PRINCETON, NJ – The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) today provided faculty reactions to the first presidential debate, held on June 27. The real-time insights from Princeton SPIA’s distinguished faculty members analyze key moments, evaluate policy discussions, and assess the broader implications for the 2024 election. As part of Princeton SPIA’s ongoing 2024 election analysis, this effort reflects the School’s commitment to contributing to informed public discourse and expert analysis during the election cycle.

Insights from SPIA Faculty:

Heather Howard, Professor of the Practice; Co-director, Global Health Program; Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Health & Wellbeing:

“Health care came up in multiple ways but the debate suffered from missed opportunities and a lack of fact checking. Candidate Trump misrepresented the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade and overstated his record on prescription drugs; President Biden missed chances to drive home his achievements on issues like maternal health, health insurance and lower drug costs. Given the stakes in this election, this was not the illuminating exchange about contrasting policy visions that voters deserve.”

Amb. Daniel C. Kurtzer, S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East Policy Studies:

“If this debate is judged by a candidate’s energy, Trump wins. If the debate is judged by facts, Biden wins. The most significant mistake by the Democrats was not insisting on real-time fact checks. It is hard to keep track of the stream of Trump’s bald-face lies. Trump’s base, who don’t care about the truth, are happy. Biden’s supporters wish he had come out swinging harder. Undecideds likely remain undecided.” 

“Trump’s absurd comments on Ukraine — he will end the war even before being sworn in — has likely increased concern among our allies, who recall Trump’s intention to pull out of NATO, as he did with the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear agreement.”

Frances Lee, Professor of Politics and Public Affairs:

“Americans tuning in to tonight’s debate hoping to hear a vision for the future were surely disappointed. The whole focus was on trading blame. Each candidate repeatedly called his opponent a liar. Each called their opponent the worst president in history. No one concerned with the future of American democracy could take heart from what they saw this evening.”

Tali Mendelberg, John Work Garrett Professor of Politics; Co-Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics:

“This debate has been hyped as pivotal. It is not. The vast majority of people who will vote have already decided whom to support. Despite a felony conviction and the issue of age, and despite the dangers to American democracy, the economy and partisanship will decide this contest.”

Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the High Meadows Environmental Institute; Director, Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment:

“On climate and environment, Trump wanted to talk about anything but the climate problem and Biden did what he could to set the record straight. Trump seems to not know what the climate problem is about while Biden has a strong record but didn’t launch a coherent defense of it—he needed to mention the jobs created by the energy transition he triggered.”

Kenneth Roth, Charles and Marie Robertson Visiting Professor and Visiting Lecturer:

“Sadly, neither candidate was inclined to question the troubling premises of his opponent's foreign policy. Trump admired and cozied up to Putin. Biden cozied up to autocrats such as the Saudi crown prince and Egypt's President Sisi in his misguided approach to countering Putin. Trump treated China transactionally, willing to ignore Beijing's repression in return for empty promises to buy more American goods. Biden was strong in stopping imports from Xinjiang made with Uyghur forced labor but undercut human rights principles by embracing as allies against China the likes of Indian Prime Minister Modi and the Vietnamese government despite their disturbing domestic records.”

Rory Truex, Associate Professor of Politics and Public Affairs:

“That was a devastating performance from President Joe Biden. He should step aside gracefully and make way for another candidate. He cannot conceivably be President of the United States for another four years. And neither can Donald Trump. His unhinged performance was so full of lies that it is difficult to know where to begin.”

Lauren Wright, Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer in Politics and Public Affairs:

“Political scientists tend to think general election debates don’t have much of an impact on election outcomes because partisans tune in to cheer for their own team. But tonight’s debate is obviously very different. A key question heading into the debate was whether Biden is up to the job at his age. He has now severely exacerbated those concerns and raised new ones by making constant mistakes and verbal stumbles when citing his own record and policies and failing to respond to Trump’s falsehoods and attacks. It is hard to imagine a worse situation for Democrats.” 

For media inquiries or to arrange interviews with any of the participating faculty members, please contact David A. Mayorga, Associate Dean for Public Affairs and Communications, at dmayorga@princeton.edu.

Keep up to date with Princeton SPIA’s 2024 Elections Analysis, including upcoming speakers and events, at: spia.princeton.edu/2024-elections and on X, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

About Princeton SPIA: The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs is dedicated to integrating world-class scholarship and a commitment to service in order to make a positive difference in the world. We welcome a robust exchange of ideas and strive to foster a close-knit community that values and supports every member. We believe that public policy in the 21st century demands a passion for service, a respect for evidence of unsurpassed quality, a global perspective, and a multiplicity of voices. Our graduates pursue careers around the globe in government, nongovernmental and multilateral organizations, foundations, and policy and research institutes.